If you pass me by in the hallway, you will see probably either a tired girl ranting mentally about the perils of Monday, or you will see an excited girl running, flapping her hands and jumping for joy even though she is fourteen. You will see a girl with a long black coat because she feels uncomfortable and cold otherwise, slightly unkempt without much regard for fashion or makeup. If you know me, you’ll think Chloe. If you don’t, you’ll think stranger. But if you understand me, you might understand why I’m moving constantly, or why I dress like how I do.
When I flap my hands, I feel like a million butterflies are lifting up my arms and fluttering around me. When I wear my jacket, I feel secure and warm against the cool elements outside me. When I run, I feel like an airplane on a runway soaring. When I do things like this, when I am my autistic self, I feel free. If I don’t, I feel like a moth without wings or a bird without a song. I am actually autistic, and I couldn’t be prouder or happier.
Some have this idea of autism as a socially awkward, straight white boy who’s about twelve, one who loves trains and knows the square root of 57 up to twelve digits. Maybe they’re that character in the book with a tragic fate, the embarrassing little sister, or Rain Man and Forrest Gump.
If they see autism as a thing rather than a character, they falsely envision heartless mad scientists injecting evil autism serum into vaccinations, or cute blue puzzle pieces that they can put on a hat to demonstrate that they know autism exists.
But when they think of autism, they don’t think of lives. I’m actually autistic, and I go to school with some disability accommodations like more testing time. I get crushes on girls and boys just like any other person, doodle in Spanish, and have friends. Some, who have a greater amount of supports, may use devices or pads to “talk.” Many times, they might have classes in other parts of the building to suit needs they have, but are nonetheless still teenagers. Autistic teenagers, like me. Who again, have dreams and plans and crushes.
Are we different? Of course we are. Autistic teenagers will experience other things teens do, but we will be different still. We might be ostracized for what we like, our flapping or rocking, and everything else that makes us autistic. We might use fidget toys, or have to have extra patience in dealing with people who use “autistic” and the R-slur insultingly.
When we “stim,” or move in strange ways or repeat sayings, it’s our way of moderating the constant sensory input all around us. The same thing applies when we use spinners or cubes or stress balls. Our interests and what we like is intense, but many times it allows us to create beautiful things or join communities and add to those communities. Many people believe Silicon Valley wouldn’t exist without autistics helping to build up the industry. We are the way we are, not caused by vaccines or needing cures. We are autistic and amazing.
But what we aren’t are tragic lives, or worthless. We’re the next generation of autistics, beautiful in all of our stimming and obsessions and abilities and ways of speaking. And so am I. We are more than puzzles, we are more than the stereotypes presented by Autism Speaks, and our disabilities are important to how we identify. I ask whoever reads this essay not to be aware about autism whenever April comes, but to be proud. Commend autistics not for how neurotypical some may seem, but for being autistic, being brave and facing ableism. Do this because we are teens too, fantastic and awesome people, ones who are actually autistic.